Women as Agents of Positive Change in Biosecurity

Kathleen Danskin is a management analyst with GAP Solutions, Inc., supporting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

Dana Perkins is a senior science advisor with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. She is a former member of the group of experts supporting the UN Security Council 1540 Committee.

By Kathleen Danskin and Dana Perkins 

WEAPONS of mass destruction (WMD) nonproliferation efforts and biosecurity are an important part of preventing conflict and achieving international peace and security. Biological weapons proliferation and the insecurity of biological weapons–related materials constitute a multifaceted problem that requires a multifactorial solution, and gender integration can be one of these factors. Managing biological threats requires a multifaceted, holistic approach to address the full spectrum of human, animal, plant, and environmental health risks (“One Health”1); promote the development of core capacities for disease detection
and response; and strengthen biosafety/biosecurity and the international norms and effective measures against bioterrorism and biological weapons. Bringing a diverse group of people to the table, including women, ensures that a range of different experiences and perspectives are heard.

The United Nations (UN) has recognized that women can play an important role in preventing and resolving conflicts and since 2000 has taken deliberate action to integrate women into the security realm. These efforts have been complemented by national plans, such as the U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security. However, while the NAP reiterates the U.S. commitment to amplifying the critical role women can play in conflict prevention and mitigation, currently there is no particular emphasis on promoting the participation of women in the fields of arms control, disarmament, WMD nonproliferation, and biosecurity. In international biosecurity forums such as the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), statistics do show sustained progress toward gender-balanced participation. However, they also paint a clear picture of just how far there is to go to achieve gender integration. Correcting the current gender imbalance is a worthwhile goal first and foremost because it is a matter of justice. International security and WMD nonproliferation are issues that concern everyone, and the institutions that manage these risks need to be reflective of society as a whole. Moreover, women add important value to biosecurity forums by, for example, leveraging women’s networks and building bridges across divided communities. Until women everywhere have the chance to participate equally in such forums, the international security and WMD nonproliferation fields will be missing an important voice.

The full text of the report is available here.


(Image: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton listens to the discussion at the 7th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Also at the U.S. Delegation desk are Ambassador Laura E. Kennedy, U.S. Special Representative for Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention Issues and Representative to the Conference on Disarmament and Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation.)

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